FREELANCERS AND TEAM PLAYERS. Matt has some useful thoughts on the difference between a freelance crook, like Bill Jefferson personally enriching himself through abuse of his office, and the kind of systemic, institutional corruption practiced by the Republican congressional majority and typified by the major corruption scandals on that side of the aisle. (Rahm Emanuel was obviously spinning but also happened to be accurate in laying out the distinction here: "One is a party outlook and operation; the other is an individual's action.") I'd just add the prosaic point that in the early days of the Duke Cunningham revelations -- back when Josh Marshall seemed to be pushing the story on a lark and papers outside of San Diego weren't paying it much mind -- it certainly seemed like that was a much more eccentric and isolated story of wrongdoing, along the lines of Jefferson. That is, easy pickings for Democrats trying to make political hay out of a Republican "culture of corruption," but not actually connected to that culture in a serious way. By now, of course, the investigation into Brent Wilkes's corrupt circle of defense and intelligence contracting is widening sufficiently to threaten shutting down the entire House Appropriations Committee.
And indeed, we're witnessing a process -- one I have slightly mixed feelings about -- whereby an unprecedented wave of criminal investigations may be provoking actual institutional changes to the campaign finance system: finance reform via law enforcement. That of course wouldn't really be possible if the corruption at hand weren't of a systemic and institutional nature in the first place.